Interactive on Cablevision upfront menu

Offering VOD channels, telescoping spots to advertisers

In the face of what could well turn out to be the most tumultuous upfront marketplace in recent memory, Cablevision is positioning its interactive platform as a means to wring more value from its clients' ad dollars.

As the upfront officially gets under way in late spring, agencies and advertisers purchasing time on Cablevision's Rainbow Media networks -- a collective that includes AMC, WE tv, Sundance Channel and IFC -- will have the option to juice their buys with interactive applications.

Among the advanced interactive features on offer are: telescoping spots, VOD channels devoted exclusively to marketers and an RFI overlay that will allow viewers to call up a prepopulated request-for-information form that is routed back directly to the advertiser.

This marks the first time Cablevision will put its suite of interactive applications on the upfront block, said senior vp advanced platform sales Barry Frey, who added that the tricked-out functionality will be limited to Rainbow clients making buys in the MSO's New York/Long Island footprint.

Boasting the greatest digital penetration of any major cable operator, Cablevision's 2.84 million iO subs account for 91.3% of its total customer base.

"Our leadership position in the interactivity and VOD space has allowed us to really take advertising to that next step, where measurability and accountability fortify the traditional spot model," Frey said. "In the past five years, we've seen consumers increasingly embrace interactivity, whether its online video or VOD. And once the consumer adopts a medium, the advertisers have to follow suit."

Cablevision's newest advanced-ad applications will be ready to roll in the fourth quarter, Frey said. One feature that has already begun generating a lot of conversation is the Power :30, a telescoping 30-second spot that will serve as a gateway to a longform (3-5 minutes) marketing pitch. Two clients that have already taken advantage of Cablevision's dedicated VOD marketing channels, Walt Disney resorts and the U.S. Navy, will be the first to build creative for the telescoping ads.

Given the wealth of information that goes unvoiced in most standard car commercials, the automotive category is a natural fit for the longform spots. "As challenged as the sector is, what we find in this challenging economic environment is that the automotive guys are seeking more engaging creative and more accountability than heretofore," Frey said. "Think of the value proposition inherent in the RFI feature. When you have a consumer who is vested enough in the longform content that he clicks to have material sent to the house ... that's a lead-generator."

Long hampered by the rapid-fire disclaimer litanies that weigh down their traditional spots, pharmaceutical companies have also expressed interested in the Power :30 as a
means to give consumers a deeper dive into their prescription and OTC products.

In addition to the Power :30s and dedicated VOD channels, advertisers can also invest in 15- or 30-second preroll VOD spots.

Rainbow ad sales revenue rose 2.8% in the fourth quarter of 2008, with total revenue at AMC, WE tv, and IFC increasing 6.7% year-over-year to $191.3 million. Rainbow president and CEO Josh Sapan said the network group was able to boost its ad sales haul in a weak quarter thanks to ratings growth at AMC and WE tv.

AMC grew its primetime ratings delivery by 13% in the fourth quarter, averaging 625,000 nightly viewers, per Nielsen ratings data. The net also improved its standing among viewers 18-49, averaging 254,000 in the period, a 16% increase. Meanwhile, WE was up 19% in the quarter among total viewers, capping a year that saw its delivery of women 18-49 increase 39%.

According to Cablevision's Q4 earnings statement, the company's local TV ad-sales intake dropped 6.5% to $29 million.